Toronto Jazz Festival – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, June 24th, 2008

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Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

TorontoBig Bad Voodoo Daddy was formed in 1989 by singer/guitarist Scotty Morris. It started as a three-piece, but quickly grew into its current big band lineup. They were at the forefront of the swing-craze of the mid-90’s, and were popularized by their appearance in the movie Swingers with songs like “You and me and the bottle makes 3 tonight (baby)” and “Go daddy-o”. You’d recognized them if you heard ‘em.

They appeared at the Nathan Phillips Square main stage, and the result was a high-energy show. People who were in their late-teens and early twenties during the 90’s swing-craze were dusting off those swing dance-moves that they paid good money for and thought they’d never get to use. The band was tight, and provided all the ingredients for a good time. They all wore cool cat jazz suits, and the brass played in front of 30’s style jazz stands. Classy.

The music was good. It wasn’t inspiring, but it was solid, tight, and full of energy. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is still at it, cranking out the big band and doing what they do best: saluting and re-creating the old-school dance jazz that was so popular in the 30’s and 40’s. There were two highlights for me. The first was Scotty giving the crowd a history lesson about the Cotton Club, a famous prohibition-era NYC jazz club, with a salute to the late great Cab Calloway. The second was the bassist Dirk Schumaker. He looked like he was having so much fun spinning that stand-up bass of his and playing music that he loves. I was thoroughly envious of the man’s joie de vivre.

If I could have bottled some of it, I’d be set for life. 4/5.

Toronto Jazz Festival – Ahmad Jamal, June 23 2008

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[Note: this review was written by Brian, an avid Ahmad Jamal enthusiast well acquainted with Ahmad’s discography.]

Toronto – Even if you haven’t heard of legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal, you’ve definitely heard the unmistakable sound he popularized.

In late fifties, Jamal’s understated, eloquent style influenced scores of other artists, famously inspiring Miles Davis’ during his First Great Quintet period. In more recent years, Jamal has been rediscovered by a new generation of artists: he’s been sampled on countless hip-hop records (Nas’ “The World is Yours”, Common’s “Resurrection”).

At his packed Festival Mainstage show earlier this week, the legendary Jamal put on a mesmerizing performance that found the 78-year old pianist still pushing his delicate, thoughtful sound into new directions.

He was accompanied by a stellar rhythm section consisting of his longtime bassist James Cammack, drummer James Johnson, and the odd-haired percussionist Manolo Badrena. The interplay between the latter two stole the show for me; it was exhilarating to watch them gradually evolve their patterns together into complex, crowd-rocking grooves.

I’ve been waiting for years to see Jamal perform, and his sparse, dynamic piano play was captivating to hear in person. The audience agreed with me, bringing the band back out for three standing-ovation encores. It was a treat to see Jamal continue to push his artistic boundaries well after his status as a jazz legend has been cemented.

4.5/5

Toronto Jazz Festival – Renaud Garcia-Fons, Enwave Theatre, June 22 2008

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Renaud Garcia-Fons (Picture by Mark)

TorontoRenaud Garcia-Fons hails from a small Parisian suburb and is a double-bassist par excellence who fuses the very best elements of jazz, flamenco, and classical music. He played last Sunday at the Enwave Theatre (Harbourfront). It was a perfect combination of venue and performer; the end-result was nothing short of enchanting.

The Enwave Theatre has a maximum capacity of 420 people and has now become one of my favourite concert halls for live music. The acoustics are absolutely fantastic. In short, a great place for a vivid music listening experience. I’ve heard good things about this hall before, but after hearing some top brass musicians stretch their legs there, I now understand what the buzz is about. I can only struggle to describe how good they sounded in this hall.

Renaud Garcia-Fons was accompanied by flamenco guitarist Antonio Ruiz and percussionist Pascal Rollando. Together, they produced a well-rounded sound that was meticulously assembled. Renaud is a virtuoso and I mean this in the best meaning of the term. Sometimes “virtuoso” is synonym for “technical mastery”. That is to say the ability to play really technically challenging things effortlessly, but robotically. Renaud has the chops, but he’s a consummate musician capable of playing with feeling. He’s got full command of his instrument, and uses it to effortlessly fuse musical styles.

This was a perfect combination of beautiful music in a venue where listeners could really appreciate how damn good this trio sounds. A highlight of the jazz festival for me this year.

Renaud Garcia-Fons: 4.8/5.0

Note: The attached song (from his latest CD Arcoluz) is an instrumental that fuses jazz and flamenco.

Toronto Jazz Festival – Maceo Parker, Sound Academy, June 20

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Maceo Parker funking it up - picture by Mark

Mark’s Review

Toronto – What more can be said of Mr. Maceo Parker, the funktastic sax who played with James Brown for so many years? To say that this show was dripping with sweet funk would be an understatement. This show was pure dance party funk from start to finish, and the crowd couldn’t get enough of it.

As one friend stated, “there was a lot of confidence on that stage”. This was certainly the case. Maceo has assembled himself a super tight funk orchestra that knows how to rock like nobody’s business. It’s a very well put together sound, and you know that they know that they know it. They wore suits, and they came, and they threw down, and there was merriment.

It’s too bad that such a great show had to happen at the Docks (sorry, the Sound Academy). The sound was a little muddy at the beginning. Fortunately adjustments were made and the band came into balance after a few songs. Then it was just pure funk energy for two solid hours. I was hoping for a couple more Ray Charles tunes, but I was really glad to hear a bit of “Georgia on My Mind” on flute, and “You Don’t Know Me” during the encore.

The Sound Academy still sucks though. The acoustics are still bad. There are TV’s showing live feeds of the show all around the room. I suppose you can make an argument that then people who are farther from the stage can see what’s going on, but in my opinion it takes away from the actual musicians on stage. Who is going to face away from the band and watch the TV’s at the back of the room?

Sound issues aside, I don’t think the Docks/Sound Academy can ever really truly succeed as a great venue because of its location. It’s just too much of a hassle to get way out there, and then getting back is always difficult as cab’s take advantage of the location to extort the concert goers.

So all in all, this show unfolded as I expected. A fantastic band, and a fantastic show, just too bad it had to be at the Docks.

Maceo Parker: 4.8/5 Sound Academy: 3/5

Ricky’s Review
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